A late goal from substitute Roberto Firmino sealed Liverpool’s passage to Saturday’s Club World Cup final in the Reds’ 2-1 win over Monterrey of Mexico.
Naby Keita had given the much changed side picked by Jurgen Klopp the lead, but Rogelio Funes Mori equalised two minutes later and 1-1 was how the score would stay until the 90th minute when Firmin0 –who replaced Divock Origi — tapped in a sumptuous cross from fellow substitute Trent Alexander Arnold.
The European Champions are in the midst of a frantic month of mixtures and squad rotation has been a prominent feature of their games for the last few weeks and this Club World Cup semi-final was no different.
The Reds back four contained two midfielders, in the shape of Jordan Henderson, at centre half, and James Milner, at right back, and the defence — which was missing the sick Virgil van Dijk — was shielded by Adam Lallana in the “number 6” berth.
From the number 8 roles upwards, the Liverpool team had a more familiar look with Keita and Oxlade Chamberlain in the engine room and Xherdan Shaqiri, Origi and Mohamed Salah completing the front three.
The early ball circulation and movement was good, as the champions of Europe imposed themselves on last season’s CONCACAF Champions League winners right from the first whistle.
And after 12 minutes the deadlock was opened. Salah and Keita linked for goals against Bournemouth in a recent Premier League match and the two African’s continued their goal producing understanding with a well worked goal, finished by the Guinean.
With a beautifully weighted reverse ball, Salah released Keita — whose sharp run was not tracked from deep — through on goal and the midfielder made no mistake and slotted past Marcelo Barovero in the Mexican’s goal.
Monterrey fired their way into proceedings only a few moments later, however, when Funes Mori — twin of former Everton defender, Ramiro — fired home after Alisson had parried a shot after a second phase off a set piece.
The unfamiliarity of Liverpool’s defence was beginning to be exposed as the half grew on and gaps were appearing in the zone where Lallana was operating and Dorlan Pabon, the Colombian striker, almost punished the Reds soft underbelly and drew Alisson into a good save.
With referee Roberto Tobar of Chile content to blow his whistle for even the most delicate shows of physicality, Liverpool were frustrated as the flow of the game was continuously interrupted by a constant flow of soft fouls being awarded to Monterrey.
The frustration would continue into the second period, as the first half finished 1-1.
The Reds had the lions share of the possession, 71%, but they looked susceptible to the counter in the second half, with Monterrey twice looking threatening on the break from Liverpool corners.
A long punt up field saw Joe Gomez, the only centre half on the pitch for the European Champions, somewhat fortunate to just see yellow as he wrestled Funes Mori to the floor. From the subsequent free kick, Pabon tested Alisson with a well hit drive.
With such a busy period of games upcoming, the thought of extra time would have been disastrous for an already stretched squad and Klopp made two late changes in an attempt to prevent an extra, energy sapping half hour of football.
Alexander Arnold replaced Milner and Firmino replaced Origi, and the duo combined to send the Reds through.
On the right hand side, a Salah pass found Alexander Arnold and the England international clipped a beautiful cross — completely flummoxing the Mexican’s defence — to the near post for Firmino to touch home and see Liverpool through.
Not their greatest showing, but once again the Mentality Monsters saw it through.
Liverpool team: Alisson; Milner, Gomez, Henderson, Robertson; Lallana, Keita, Oxlade Chamberlain; Salah, Origi, Shaqiri.
Substitutions: Mane for Shaqiri, Alexander Arnold for Milner, Firmino for Origi.
Subs not used: Adrian, Lonergan, Williams, Jones,